“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist. That is all.”
It’s that time of year again. People are dressing in green. They’re speaking in faux-foreign accents. They’re drinking green beer.
For a non-official holiday, St. Patrick’s day is surprisingly well-observed here in the States. And it is by no means isolated to those with Irish ancestry.
And what better way to celebrate than with a bowl of Irish stew?
It’s the type of meal that Irishman Oscar Wilde (who was so kind as to provide the quote at the top) would have enjoyed frequently.
It’s quite healthy and, as I will show you, very easy to prepare.
The Irish Stew Controversy
For such a rustic dish, Irish stew is surprisingly controversial.
The purists will tell you that true Irish stew contains only mutton, potatoes, onions, and water.
Although that might make the sticklers happy, for most of us this results in a bland and dull meal.
And so, in the past few centuries, people have started adding more and more to it.
If mutton cannot be found (and it rarely can), plain lamb is used instead. Carrots and celery are added to make a mirepoix with the onions. Spices and herbs are added and the water is replaced with stock for extra flavor.
Traditional Irish foods, such as Guinness stout and pearl barley are added. And corn starch and flour are added to make it thicker.
I’m not Irish (although my first name is), so I’m more than happy to buck tradition a bit and end up with a tastier meal. But do what is right for you. Take this recipe as a blueprint and add or subtract to suit your taste, as always.
From Pot Roast to Stew
One of the cornerstones of kitchen hacking is that, instead of relying on thick cookbooks of unrelated recipes, you instead focus on the basics.
After you have a handful of these “blueprints” memorized, you can prepare countless variations based on what you have available and what you’re in the mood for.
In the Kitchen Hacking 101 course, I showed you in great detail how to prepare a pot roast from scratch. (If you haven’t signed up for this free course yet, you’ll want to do so here.)
Stew is basically a more “dilute” form of pot roast, with more liquid and the meat cut up before cooking. This results in a thick dish that is ready to eat immediately after cooking is complete.
And so, by using more stock than a pot roast, and substituting diced lamb for a whole beef roast, you have essentially made Irish stew!
Here’s an idea of the time, money, and energy I put into this (and what I got out of it):
- Total Calories: 5882
- Total Money: $28.52
- Total Time: 46 minutes (plus 8 hours unattended cooking)
As I mentioned, this is very similar to a beef pot roast, and the ingredients should be pretty cheap and easy to track down.
The only exception is the lamb. You might want to call ahead to your local supermarket to make sure they have lamb shoulder available. If you can’t find any, feel free to use a beef chuck roast instead.
Here’s what you’ll want to pick up:
- 3 lb lamb shoulder
- 3 lb potatoes
- 1/2 lb celery
- 1/2 lb carrots
- 1/2 large (or 1 small) onion
- thyme (5 sprigs fresh, or 1 tablespoon dried)
- parsley (5 sprigs fresh, or 1 tablespoon dried)
- bay leaves (2 dried, or 2 fresh)
- 6 cups beef stock
- 1 bottle stout beer (like Guinness)
- salt and pepper
Once you’ve got all the ingredients together, you’re ready to go.
1. Cut the lamb into 1-inch cubes. Use a chef’s knife and start cutting up the lamb. Don’t get too worried about the exact size. Just make them small enough to fit in a spoon.
2. Peel the potatoes and cut into 1-inch cubes. Same thing as the lamb, but with the spuds instead. Just make sure to run them under water first and give a quick scrub with a washcloth to clean off any dirt.
3. Peel and mince the garlic. Peel the garlic and cut up into as small pieces as you can.
4. Slice the celery, peel and slice the carrots, and peel and dice the onion. I went over all this in Kitchen Hacking 101. Be sure to subscribe here if you’d like to see how to do this in detail.
5. Put everything in a slow cooker, stir, and cook low for at least 8 hours. Don’t have a slow cooker, you say? Read this and try to justify yourself! In all seriousness, you can prepare this in a plain ol’ pot as well. Just get it boiling, turn the heat down to simmer for at least 2 hours, and stir occasionally. (But the slow cooker is so tasty and much easier. Get yourself one. Do it!)
Variations and the Wrap-Up
As I mentioned earlier, you can make this with just lamb (specifically mutton neck), potatoes, onions, and water. A lot of the other stuff in here might make a true Irishman weep, but I’ve added them for the sake of taste.
Likewise, you can add pearl barley or flour to thicken it up a bit. I tend to steer clear of grains, and particularly flour, so I’ve not included them here.
And there you have it!
Ladle some into a bowl, crack open another bottle of Guinness, and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in style!